What's wrong with games TV?
Last month, BBC2 Scotland announced that a second series of videogames show videoGaiden will be arriving on screens this November. The programme is presented by Robert Florence and Ryan Macleod, who began their career in gaming TV with the Internet-only show Consolevania.
Like its predecessor, videoGaiden proved to be a huge hit with gamers - unlike so many other gaming shows. So what's gone wrong in the past, and what's next for games TV? Robert Florence gives us his views on the subject.
"Why can't there be any decent videogame TV?" You've heard it said so many times. You can see it on Internet forums every day of the week. "Why? Why aren't we represented on terrestrial TV? Why won't broadcasters touch us?"
I've been invited to weigh in on this subject. I'm approaching it as someone who has worked in TV for 10 years, and has played games for 25. I'm approaching it as someone who unsuccessfully pitched a videogames show to Channel 4 about five years ago. I'm approaching it as someone who, with my mates, decided to go it alone and do games TV on the Internet. And I approach it as someone who's managed to sneak a games show onto the BBC through the back door, under cover of darkness, inside a cardboard box that smells of dog piss.
We didn't start Consolevania because we were frustrated at "lack of representation." We started Consolevania for a laugh. A giggle. There was no grand design. We just wanted to try to make something that we would watch while loaded up on beer and curries.
The first episode was filmed with a borrowed Sony VX1000, a cheap little microphone taped to a length of coat hanger, and the support of a number of great people on the Rllmuk games forum. The first episode was distributed on CD, because no-one on the team had broadband. We had no idea what we were doing.
At the time of writing (and don't ask me how we got here, because I have no idea) Consolevania attracts more "readers" than most UK games magazines. We have viewers in the States, Korea, Israel, Europe, Japan and even Venezuela, proving that we're Miss World's videogame show of choice.
We haven't aggressively promoted the show. It's all happened by word-of-mouth. What's the appeal? I think it's two things - Truth and Fun. Truth, because if we hate a game, we'll hammer it. Really hammer it. And if we love a game, we'll champion it to the point of being accused of being its girlfriend. Fun, because we're still just mates having a laugh.
It's a strange existence for the "Internet TV show." Despite the massive number of viewers we reach, we still find it difficult to source any review copies of games. We get the occasional thing coming in, usually from PR companies who have enjoyed the show, but we still find ourselves having to pay for software and hardware to review.
I think that PR companies don't like it when they send you something and you don't review it, and we've done that. But we have to consider our reviews on a televisual basis as well as all the other stuff, so not everything can automatically fly. I think some PR places don't like the fact that we have a tendency to point and laugh at games. I think some PR places don't like the fact that we don't want or need exclusives, or press trips, or finger food, or live bands, or a nice party, or nice wee presents. We just want games, so we can tell people the truth about them. They have no control.
All of which leads me back to the question asked at the start of this piece. "Why aren't gamers represented on terrestrial TV?" I think I know why. I've had many a meeting with many a production company. I like to think that over my 10 years of eking out a living in telly, I have a vague idea of "the way they think." And that's why I believe that the reason why there hasn't been any great videogame TV is not because "they" don't understand us. It's because almost every time there's been a videogames TV show, it's been utter crap.
I could list them, but you know them all already. With the exception of Gamesmaster, which itself was a weak format saved from early death by Dominik Diamond and Dominik Diamond alone, videogames TV has a history of missed opportunities and lazy box-ticking production.
Why would any right-minded commissioning editor, whose job is on the line every time he signs off on a TV show, ask for more games TV when even gamers hate most past examples? So, don't blame TV. Blame those who had their shot and blew it.
The BBC has commissioned videoGaiden for two main reasons. One, it has links with Consolevania, which means there's already a solid base of viewers out there. Two, it doesn't recognisably share any ties with games TV of the past.
In order for videoGaiden to happen, the show's had to distance itself from the formats (and the mistakes) of videogame TV history. There will be no "celebrity gaming challenges." There will be no teenagers in the studio, telling us what they think of Battle Raper's graphics. There will be no features telling people what a Super Nintendo is. There will be no dolly birds with pigtails and Riot Grrrl facial expressions waving light guns about. Deliciously, there will be no Iain Lee.
It won't be anything like Consolevania either. The BBC would have liked that, I think. But we want to keep our baby in our cradle. videoGaiden will be something totally different. There will be reviews, sure, and we'll carry on the approach of not caring about pleasing the PR men, only this time we can thumb our nose and say, "We're the BBC. Who the f**k are you?"
There will be "comedic moments" in a studio, because we like doing comedy, and we like poking fun at games and gamers. There will be a series long campaign (think "Blue Peter Appeal" with more swearing) that's so exciting I can't stop grinning as I think about it.
And there will be features. We start shooting the features at the end of August. If they work out as planned, they'll be bizarre and incredible. If they don't work out as planned, they'll be baffling and we'll have blown our shot.
The format of videoGaiden is, then, a couple of guys and their cronies from an Internet TV show having a laugh about games, spending the license payer's money on stupid big props, and doing honest reviews in fancy dress.
It's not rocket science, but I think it'll be enough. We might blow it, sure, and send videogames TV down the terrestrial TV plughole for another five years. But if we do blow it, let's not do it with an uninteresting, unambitious, "Yeahkidscheckitout!" thumbs-up to the camera.
Let's blow it in a glorious, unforgettable blaze of videogaming glory, laughing all the way.
Robert Florence is a presenter on videoGaiden. The new series will be broadcast on BBC2 Scotland and available for download this November.